Ready to go for the Dakar Rally: Ellen Lohr and the Mercedes-Benz service fleet

Stuttgart -- Just eleven more days to go to the start of the 'Kwikpower Mercedes-Benz' team's debut appearance in the most prestigious desert rally of the planet -- and the excitement is increasing. In the morning of New Year's Eve, Lisbon will be the venue of Ellen Lohr's and Detlef Ruf's (her co-pilot) start into the Dakar Rally. 16 days and more than 9,000 kilometres later, on 15 th January, the event will end in Senegal 's capital, Dakar . The pairing Lohr/Ruf is going to contest the event with a rally prototype based on the new Mercedes-Benz M-Class. This prototype, the 'Mercedes ML 350 Evo II' was designed and built by the racing team, 'ORC Sportservice', based in Nellingen near Stuttgart .

"For us as a new team, it's the goal to make it to the finish in our maiden Dakar Rally appearance and to gain a lot of experience," says Ellen Lohr. "To achieve this goal, we have created professional preconditions, particularly thanks to the major Mercedes-Benz support in the service area. But it's not for nothing that the Dakar is called the toughest rally of the world -- usually, less than 50 percent of the field makes it to the finish."

Mercedes-Benz Service vehicles modified for the use in the desert

The former DTM driver and her Bavarian co-pilot will be supported by a unique Mercedes-Benz service fleet with vehicles from four different business departments. First off all, there is the Unimog U 400 that has been turned into a true racing truck, in the Unimog plant located in Worth in the Baden-Wurttemberg region. Just as the rally prototype it was equipped with a racing suspension of the Dutch company 4Grip. Furthermore, its equipment features safety details such as a roll-cage, bucket seats and safety harnesses. The task of the three-person Unimog crew: to be on site as fast as possible should the rally prototype suffer a problem during the course of a special stage. The Actros 6x6 for ORC designer Andreas Lennartz and two mechanics is used as rolling spare-parts depot for the official service spots between the stages. The Viano 4Matic crew features the ORC Team Principal, Hans-Erwin Baur, and Ellen Lohr's most prominent team member, Balbir Singh. For the Indian, who has been Michael Schumacher's physiotherapist for ten years, the exhausting trip across Africa also represents a debut. The service car fleet is completed by a Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

Ellen Lohr: "The field is extremely competitive, this year"

Following 20 successful years in road racing, Ellen Lohr moved to the off-road sport in 2004. "That's just pure motor racing," says the former DTM winner, "And the Dakar represents the biggest challenge there is." In its Dakar debut, the 15-person Kwikpower Mercedes-Benz team will have to battle it out with extremely competitive opponents. "The field is extremely competitive, this year," adds Lohr. "But I'm convinced that we will be able to secure a proper result, should we succeed in making it to the finish." The 40-year old was already in the field of last year's Dakar Rally, with an independently entered buggy, yet, she had to retire already on day four, due to a technical failure. "At that time, I realised that a professional service team is particularly vital when it comes to marathon racing. It's just fantastic that we succeeded in creating getting Mercedes-Benz aboard, for this area." The 28 th Dakar Rally starts in Portugal , with its route leading via Spain , Morocco , Mali , Mauretania and Guinea to Senegal .